07 April 2017

Making the DLSU Varsity Football Team and Being Surprised About it


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Although I had made my mind up the previous school year that I would join football varsity try-outs, at the start of my junior year, I was still beset by doubts and continued to procrastinate. It had been two years since I played competitive football and I did not have a pair of football boots.

I continued to watch the team scrimmage during lunch break whenever I could from the northern end of the La Salle Building where there was a line of benches facing the football field. It must have been sometime in July when a couple of players left the field momentarily to take a drink at a water fountain close to where I sat. I finally decided it was a good a time as any to find out more about the tryouts, and asked the two guys on their way back to the field what I needed to do to be able to join them.

“There’s nothing to it,” one of them replied. “Just show up at the field in your playing gear.” They also told me that the team for the NCAA was usually not announced until the end of the first semester, so I would not be late at all. I thanked them and promised to join them soon.

I needed two or three more weeks before I could actually fulfill my promise. I had been saving up already for a pair of football boots, but the money I had was nowhere near sufficient for the cheapest boots available in the market. I had scoured all the sports shops at the commercial center in Makati and I could not find a pair that I could afford. I dearly would have loved to have bought a pair of Adidas boots but these were all prohibitively priced. All I could do was stare longingly at them through the shop windows.

Finally, I found football shoes that I could afford, of all places, in an obscure shop along Avenida Rizal in Santa Cruz. It was an ugly Made in China pair with leather soles and six studs made of hard plastic. Adidas they definitely were not. The upper leather was so tough that I had blisters for weeks. It was a good thing I had a high pain threshold and could still play even if parts of my feet were raw where the blistered skin had peeled off.

The first time I joined tryouts, I wasn’t comfortable at all. My football boots were killing me and I lacked stamina because I hadn’t played in a while. The coach, Baltazar Dimasuay, whom everyone just called “Dima,” gave everyone positions and then we just started playing. He was something of a living legend among football players since he had played for the Armed Forces and the national team. As coach, he engineered lengthy championship streaks for La Salle Greenhills and DLSU.

That first day, because I was the new guy, I was given the position that nobody wanted: left fullback. I couldn’t really complain so I just tried to make the most of the occasion. I played as a forward on the right wing when I was in high school and had never really played defense before that day. But I was finally back on the football field after two years. With ball at my feet, I would have enjoyed myself whatever position I was given.

With each passing day scrimmaging with the other tryouts and established members of the team, I became more comfortable and slowly started to express myself. As the football that I was capable of started to come out, I began to realize that these very same guys whom I found intimidating while I used to watch from outside the field were not so intimidating, after all, when I was already on the field playing with them.

When I was already a coach years later, whenever any of the boys who trained under me were experiencing doubts about whether they were good enough to try out for their university teams, I would tell them this very same story. Whatever the challenge, you just really will never find out if you’re cut out for it or not unless you actually give it a try.

One day just before semestral break, after scrimmage Dima called everyone over to him for a huddle. He was holding a piece of paper with one hand. It didn’t take us long to realize that the time had come for him to announce the NCAA team. Roughly half of the previous year’s champion team graduated at the end of the school year, so we all knew that Dima was rebuilding the team and that there would be many slots open to new players.

As expected, Dima first read out the names of players who were carried over from the previous season. Then he started to read out the new players from among the tryouts. In all honesty, I wasn’t too concerned because all I really wanted to gain from joining the tryouts was to become eligible for the ROTC athletes’ platoon.

When he stopped reading, I thought he was done announcing the NCAA team. I wasn’t really counting. But then he looked at me and said, “Torrefranca…” I wasn’t sure that he was talking to me, but there was nobody among the tryouts with that surname. “Torrefranca,” he repeated. I felt that I needed to correct him, so I did. “Torrecampo, Dima,” I said lamely.

I didn’t think he heard nor that he cared, but he went on, “I want you to practice hard! Really hard.” I was nodding stupidly, not really sure what he meant. Then he continued, “I am including you in the NCAA team!”

I could do nothing but continue nodding stupidly. Eventually, I managed to lamely say, “Yes Dima…”

What in the world just happened? I was just trying to avoid prolonged ROTC training and would have been happy to have stayed in the farm team as long as I could keep playing. And there I was being told that I was part of the team that would play in the NCAA the following semester.

It took a while before it sank in and I was sure I still looked stupid even after I finally arrived at the athletes’ shower room. Some of the players were congratulating me. But there was this one player, who incidentally was among the officers when I attended ROTC in my freshman year, who bitterly told me, “You’re so lucky! I have been trying out for four years and will be graduating but still didn’t make the team. You just tried out recently but you made it.”

What was I to say? In fairness, his tone was more bitter than accusatory. I felt sorry for him, but what could I do? It wasn’t as though the decision was ever mine and it was never as if my own world would collapse if I failed to make the cut. So I just smiled at him and shrugged my shoulders.

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